Report: all major download sites serve potentially unwanted programs

Martin Brinkmann
Mar 13, 2015

Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUP), adware or crapware is terminology for programs offered to you, usually in the form of being included in installers, that have nothing to do functionality-wise with the program you are trying to install.

Software companies and developers include those programs to make money, and while they certainly do so, help spread those programs with the help of the Internet to thousands if not millions of home computer systems.

Not all of these offers are necessarily bad or outright malicious. Popular companies such as Dropbox use these distribution methods to increase the user base. But even those offers may be unwanted and installed, especially since installers use sneaky techniques to confuse users when it comes to making the right choice.

More often than not though, you end up with software on your system that you don't need. In addition to that, it is often the case that core system settings such as the browser's homepage or search provider get altered in the process as well.

For software developers, it is one way of making money. Depending on how the product is offered, it may be the only way for them. There are alternatives, certainly. A pro version could be offered for instance with added functionality or for-business use, support could be offered for a price, or donations could be accepted.

The downside for developers is that they may drive away users in the long run because of these offers. In addition, all developers, even those not including adware with their programs, may be affected by download wrappers offered on popular download sites even though they have nothing to do with them and don't see a single dime of the revenue generated by them.

Reports on the How To Geek website and more recently on Emsisoft suggest that all (Emsisoft all but one) major download sites serve potentially unwanted programs.

imgburn adware

Emsisoft for instance analyzed the top 10 downloads of popular download sites including, Snapfiles, Sourceforge, Soft32, Softpedia and Software Informer and came to the conclusion that on all but one of them applications were bundled with some sort of PUP. On, this was the case on all 10 programs. Only Sourceforge did not include PUP with applications according to the report.

If you have been to Sourceforge before, you may know that the site is not as clean as Emisoft's report makes it look like. Some downloads on Sourceforge are offered with install wrappers that install PUP software.

They inform you about this in the article but have not included download wrapper offers in the stats. If they would have, the situation would look even more grim on many portals and Sourceforge would not have received a 0% adware rating.

Adware Types

Generally speaking, it is necessary to distinguish between two different offer types:

  1. Programs that include adware in their own installer.
  2. Download wrappers offered on some portals that include adware.

In the worst case, users may be exposed to adware in the download wrapper first before they are exposed to a second batch of adware in the program installer.

One cannot really say that one type is worse than the other as they both cause the same damage on user systems but a distinction needs to be made still.

You find clean download links on most sites that offer download wrappers but those are usually not highlighted while the main downloads (with the wrapper) are.

download wrapper clean

What are software sites that cover the majority of programs supposed to do about software that comes with adware offers? Not review and offer them for download? What if it is a major program? This could reflect badly on the portal.

It could however also help marginalize the adware distributed business model on the Internet and convince some developers to offer clean installers without adware offers.

There is certainly space in this world for a software site that blocks any program with adware from being listed on it but it would have to block several popular programs in the process. That's not necessarily a bad thing though as there are usually alternatives available that can be offered instead.

Some programs are offered in multiple versions, some with adware others without, and it would be possible to host those without adware on the site but there are other programs that come only with adware.

In the end, software sites have the choice. They can increase the site's revenue by using download wrappers and alienate users in the process, and select to host software programs with PUP bundled or not.

What you can do

  1. Whenever possible, don't download from major download sites such as, Softonic, Sourceforge or Tucows.
  2. If you have the choice between an installer and a portable version, pick the portable version as it won't include adware offers.
  3. Some sites offer clean programs only. You can try Ninite or Portable Apps for a selection of popular downloads
  4. If you ever come upon a site that is serving you adware in one form or the other, boycott it from that moment on and (optional) let others know about it.
Report: all major download sites serve potentially unwanted programs
Article Name
Report: all major download sites serve potentially unwanted programs
All major download sites on the Internet serve users adware in one form or the other.

Tutorials & Tips

Previous Post: «
Next Post: «


  1. ilev said on August 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Doesn’t Windows 8 know that www. or http:// are passe ?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on August 4, 2012 at 7:57 pm

      Well it is a bit difficulty to distinguish between domains and files for instance.

    2. Leonidas Burton said on September 4, 2023 at 4:51 am

      I know a service made by google that is similar to Google bookmarks.

  2. VioletMoon said on August 16, 2023 at 5:26 pm

    @Ashwin–Thankful you delighted my comment; who knows how many “gamers” would have disagreed!

  3. Karl said on August 17, 2023 at 10:36 pm


    The comments section under this very article (3 comments) is identical to the comments section found under the following article:

    Not sure what the issue is, but have seen this issue under some other articles recently but did not report it back then.

  4. Anonymous said on August 25, 2023 at 11:44 am

    Omg a badge!!!
    Some tangible reward lmao.

    It sucks that redditors are going to love the fuck out of it too.

  5. Scroogled said on August 25, 2023 at 10:57 pm

    With the cloud, there is no such thing as unlimited storage or privacy. Stop relying on these tech scums. Purchase your own hardware and develop your own solutions.

    1. lollmaoeven said on August 27, 2023 at 6:24 am

      This is a certified reddit cringe moment. Hilarious how the article’s author tries to dress it up like it’s anything more than a png for doing the reddit corporation’s moderation work for free (or for bribes from companies and political groups)

  6. El Duderino said on August 25, 2023 at 11:14 pm

    Almost al unlmited services have a real limit.

    And this comment is written on the dropbox article from August 25, 2023.

  7. John G. said on August 26, 2023 at 1:29 am

    First comment > @ilev said on August 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    For the God’s sake, fix the comments soon please! :[

  8. Kalmly said on August 26, 2023 at 4:42 pm

    Yes. Please. Fix the comments.

  9. Kim Schmidt said on September 3, 2023 at 3:42 pm

    With Google Chrome, it’s only been 1,500 for some time now.

    Anyone who wants to force me in such a way into buying something that I can get elsewhere for free will certainly never see a single dime from my side. I don’t even know how stupid their marketing department is to impose these limits on users instead of offering a valuable product to the paying faction. But they don’t. Even if you pay, you get something that is also available for free elsewhere.

    The algorithm has also become less and less savvy in terms of e.g. English/German translations. It used to be that the bot could sort of sense what you were trying to say and put it into different colloquialisms, which was even fun because it was like, “I know what you’re trying to say here, how about…” Now it’s in parts too stupid to translate the simplest sentences correctly, and the suggestions it makes are at times as moronic as those made by Google Translations.

    If this is a deep-learning AI that learns from users’ translations and the phrases they choose most often – which, by the way, is a valuable, moneys worthwhile contribution of every free user to this project: They invest their time and texts, thereby providing the necessary data for the AI to do the thing as nicely as they brag about it in the first place – alas, the more unprofessional users discovered the translator, the worse the language of this deep-learning bot has become, the greater the aggregate of linguistically illiterate users has become, and the worse the language of this deep-learning bot has become, as it now learns the drivel of every Tom, Dick and Harry out there, which is why I now get their Mickey Mouse language as suggestions: the inane language of people who can barely spell the alphabet, it seems.

    And as a thank you for our time and effort in helping them and their AI learn, they’ve lowered the limit from what was once 5,000 to now 1,500…? A big “fuck off” from here for that! Not a brass farthing from me for this attitude and behaviour, not in a hundred years.

Leave a Reply

Check the box to consent to your data being stored in line with the guidelines set out in our privacy policy

We love comments and welcome thoughtful and civilized discussion. Rudeness and personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please stay on-topic.
Please note that your comment may not appear immediately after you post it.